Was globalization a cause or consequence of the end of the cold war? Globalization is a concept that is difficult to define. Due to the ambiguity surrounding what ‘globalization’ actually constitutes, different political theories can have different views on globalization. In reference to whether globalization was a cause or consequence of the end of the Cold War, it can be argued that globalization was both and cause and consequence, depending on what theoretical approach is taken by the individual, as this essay will demonstrate. Globalization is a recent term which essentially encompasses a number of different concepts to explain a ‘worldwide sense of interconnectedness’. To understand globalization one needs to think of it as ‘an extensive series of relationships’ which connect the economic, social, technological and cultural aspects of our (and other peoples) lives.
Essentially globalization refers to movement, specifically an awareness that these relationships are changing with increasing speed and volatility as a result of the increasing ability for people, information, goods and services and even ideas to transgress the globe with relative ease, resulting in the relative de-territorialisation of social, economic and cultural activity and ideas within states. However, we must keep in mind that globalization is not homogenous and means a number of different things to different people.
The Cold War (1939 – 1991) was a period of assumed ‘conflict’ between the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States of America (USA). Competition between the USSR and the United States was ‘assumed’ because neither state directly engaged each other in military conflict. However, each state was vying for the dominance of “opposing social and value systems” (Zimmermann 2003: 20) which resulted in large increases in military spending for both countries, military coalitions with other nations (often resulting in proxy wars) and most famously a nuclear arms race (Duffield 2007: 25-26). The result of this was uniquely bipolar world structured in terms of “liberal democracy [versus] socialist communism” (Zimmermann 2003: 11)
The end of the Cold War (generally thought of as the period from 1985 – 1991) ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union, an event which can be contributed to a number of events (Spellman 2006: 60). By examining the underlying factors for these events, from both a realist and liberalist perspective, we can come to an understanding of how globalization can be argued to be both a cause for the end of the Cold War and a consequence of the end of the Cold War, depending on which viewpoint is taken by the individual.
We are able to use the tenets of realism to argue that, essentially, the end of the Cold War also ended the bipolar structure of the world (which inhibits globalization) thereby allowing globalization to take place.
Realism holds the belief that the international system exists in anarchy meaning that there is no higher power to enforce rules upon that state. The bipolar structure of the world can be considered to be an example of ‘anarchy in the global system’ in light of the fact that during the Cold War, states aligned themselves with either the United States of America or the Soviet Union, according to whether they were more inclined towards socialism or democracy, (Zimmermann 2003: 37) resulting in two distinct global ‘blocs’ (eventually symbolised by NATO and WARSAW). A realist argument for this bipolarity could be that, in the absence of any meaningful international institution which could guarantee the security of state members, the survival of the state is its primary interest and comes above anything else. Consequently individual states believed that supporting one of the two superpowers would guarantee them this security if their sovereignty was threatened by another state. It can therefore be argued that due to such multi-national alliances the structure of the world became very bipolar, inhibiting any form of globalization, which relies on the de-territorialisation and interconnectedness of states.
Realism also proposes that international institutions are meaningless. At this time the United Nations proved ineffective as it relied largely upon the continued goodwill and co-operation of the Soviet Union and the United States of America (Romero 2005: 127). The end of World War II saw deterioration in relations between the USSR and the USA resulting in the Cold War which lead to the United Nations body (the formerly meaningful overarching ‘power’) becoming insignificant. Since globalization, to an extent, relies on the co-operation of states with each other the inefficiency of the United Nations at this time symbolizes the lack of co-operation between states, preventing globalization from taking place.
A realist could argue that the hegemony of the United States of America over the USSR lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the period leading up to the end of the Cold War the United States was able to dominate the Soviet Union diplomatically, economically and in terms of military strength as illustrated by President Regan’s ability to unite the western world in a stance against the Soviet Union (Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation 2008), the thriving U.S economy (compared to the USSR which was stuck in an extended period of stagnation) and the largest peace time military build-up in U.S history which the Soviets were unable to equal. (Zimmermann 2003: 223) This domination had a number of consequences for the Soviet Union including public discontent, a call for change in the face of communism and a move towards the fundamental principles upheld by the west – nationalism, individualism and free market capitalism (Spellman 2006) which resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The end of the Soviet Union had the effect of breaking the bipolarity of the world structure by removing the barriers inhibiting globalization, thereby allowing globalization in the form of “increased connectivity and concomitant dependency” (Zimmermann 2003) to take place. In this realist context globalization is a consequence of the end of the Cold War.
In contrast, the liberalist perspective is that globalization caused the end of the Cold War, predominantly through ‘denationalisation of power’, resulting in the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The overall approach or aim of liberalist theories is to promote individual freedom, rational thinking and human progress by removing the barriers that obstruct equality. In 1985 the Politburo elected “reform minded” Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Unlike previous secretaries Gorbachev’s view of the world included the desire to end the conflict between the United States and the USSR, however many consider his reforms to have been “extemporaneous, providing fewer and fewer tools to deal with the crises of the Soviet Union. In fact [Gorbachev’s] policies accelerated these crises”, (Romero 2005: 86) and to have lead to the decline of the USSR. In an attempt to bolster the Soviet Union and lift it out of a extended period of economic stagnation Gorbachev implemented a number of liberal based policies such as ‘glasnost’ (political policy of freedom) and perestroika (reconstruction) (Young 1999: 109) thereby effectively removing barriers to individual freedom, realistic thinking and human development posed by the formerly oppressive policies of the socialist state. Gorbachev’s policy changes can be argued to be in part, contributed to the effects of globalization, in the sense that Gorbachev had been influenced by ‘western’ (non-socialist) principles when making his reforms which supports the argument for globalization, that state interconnectedness de-nationalizes state power.
Liberalist theory places emphasis on individual freedom and rights, it considers the existence of the state to solely promote and preserve the rights of its individual citizens; an inability to do this will result in the breakdown of the ‘state’. Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika reforms had unintended consequences for the authority of the communist state over its people. The reduction of communist control over the people under glasnost resulted in the Politburo losing control of the media. With new found freedom to speak out against the state, the media readily exposed the past and present inadequacies and failures of the USSR to the public and more importantly the rest of the world. For example: the country’s current economic difficulties, Chernobyl disaster and former endorsement of Adolf Hitler during World War II were all events which “exposed the fault lines in [an] already weak state” (Duffield 2007: 53). The public became dissatisfied with the so called ‘positives of soviet life’ as the negative aspects of the Soviet Union were brought into the spotlight, and readily expressed their dissatisfaction, threatening the existence of the USSR. Essentially the result of the glasnost and perestroika reforms made the Soviet Union more ‘globalised’ in the sense that state power was de-nationalised and distributed among ‘institutions’ (Zimmermann 2003: 59-60) such as the free media which had the ability to spread ideas about the state amongst the public and people outside the Soviet Union, ideas which contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union and therefore the end of the Cold War.
The inability of the Soviet Union to represent the best interests of the public resulted in an uprising against the USSR which was catalysed through globalization. In a notable incident in Poland the oppressed people of the Solidarity movement were able to protest the ban on Solidarity. Gorbachev, through glasnost, had weakened the ability of the Soviet regime to impose its control over its republics, for Poland this meant no leaders to restore ‘central authority’ (Spellman 2006: 192) which allowed the polish to protest without excessive oppression. To liberalists this can be considered to be an act of globalization in the sense that ideas of the Solidarity movement were able to transgress the territorial borders of the state enabling American president Ronald Reagan to seize upon the opportunity to extend a hand of support to “the millions behind the iron curtain who looked to the west for help” by placing economic sanctions of Poland to protest Solidarity resulting in Soviet non-intervention in the affair (Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation 2008) which in part contributed to the collapse of the USSR for the reason that other constitute republics followed Poland’s lead in a move away from socialism (Spellman 2006: 87) mitigating the Soviet power base
Liberalists would consider the rise of the people against the socialist state as inevitable due to the fact the only purpose of the state is to promote and preserve the rights of its individual citizens something which the predominately communist Soviet regime was not doing. Globalization as an ever increasing state actor acted upon the bipolar structure of the world, slowly breaking it down as co-operation between states and an emphasis on freedom, equality and free market capitalism increased in the eastern bloc (Romero 2005: 57-58) which resulted in domestic actors and structures within the USSR challenging the socialist regime of the country cumulating in a breakdown of the USSR and the end of the Cold War
As demonstrated globalization can be considered both cause and a consequence for the end of the Cold War depending on the theoretical approach taken and which facets of that theoretical approach are applied to the situation. Considering this, the question of whether the globalization was a cause or consequence of the end of Cold War has no definitive answer when applied alongside political theoretical framework and merely constitutes an opportunity for the individual to appreciate the arguments of different theoretical approaches.
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